AUSTIN, Texas – Alamo native Pedro Reyes, who played a key role in the creation of UT-Rio Grande Valley, is stepping down from his position as executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the UT System.

Following a sabbatical at Princeton University, Reyes says he will return to teaching at UT Austin in the fall of 2016. Throughout his tenure at the UT System, Reyes taught part-time and is the Ashbel Smith Professor of Education Policy at UT Austin. He also has served as the director of the UT Austin Texas Education Research Center since 2009.

Pedro Reyes
Pedro Reyes

“Working with the UT System’s academic presidents to make significant improvements in student success on such a wide scale has been one of the richest and most rewarding experiences of my professional career,” Reyes said. “But now it’s time for me to return to my other passion – teaching and research.”

In a news release, UT System said although Reyes will be leaving his current role when a successor is named, he will continue to serve as a special assistant to Chancellor William H. McRaven through December 2015 to provide guidance on UTRGV, UT System’s engineering and computer science initiative, the establishment of the Americas Institute and other high-profile projects.

Reyes was a key player in establishing the new UT Rio Grande Valley, which will open its doors this fall, working closely with then-Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Gene Powell, who at the time was chairman of the UT System board of regents.

Rio Grande Valley legislators such as state Sen. Eddie Lucio said at the time that it was not coincidence that the Valley got a new university and school of medicine when the three key players at the UT System were from South Texas. Cigarroa is from Laredo, Powell from Weslaco, and Reyes from Alamo.

In May, 2014, Reyes said being part of the project to create a new university in South Texas was the most challenging thing he has done in his career. “With this team in place and the assistance and support of the entire faculty and staff at UTB and UTPA, I am certain we will be ready and enthusiastic to welcome UTRGV students in fall 2015,” he said.

Chancellor McRaven had this to say about Reyes: “Establishing UTRGV has been an exciting and complex process, and we would not be poised to open this historic institution without Dr. Reyes’ formidable leadership. I have only known Dr. Reyes a few short months, but it doesn’t take long to see the impact of his commitment on Texas higher education. The UT System and each of its academic institutions have made significant advancements under Dr. Reyes’ guidance, and I am grateful for his extraordinary service.”

UTRGV President Guy Bailey first worked with Reyes when he served as provost of UT San Antonio from 1998 to 2005. He worked with him also on developing UTRGV. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dr. Reyes while serving at two different UT institutions. I’m so impressed both by his broad understanding of higher education and higher education policy and by his commitment to students and their success. It is an honor to work with him and for him.”

Reyes made the news last November when he initially objected to Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s efforts to start an engineering program in Weslaco. “The plan laid out by Texas A&M-Kingsville would duplicate programs that are already offered by nearby institutions and that are planned for the new university. We hope that you will reconsider your plan and request the opportunity to meet with you in person at your earliest convenience for future discussions,” Reyes said, in a letter to TAMUK President Steve Tallant. Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp was not pleased about the letter. “It’s not about what is best for Texas A&M Kingsville, Texas A&M College Station or any one university. It is about what is best for the children of the Rio Grande Valley,” Sharp said. Eventually, the issue was resolved, with UT and A&M agreeing to support each other’s engineering programs in the Valley.

The UT System news release gives biographical details about Reyes. He previously served on the faculty at The University of Kansas and at his alma mater, The University of Wisconsin-Madison. He joined the UT Austin faculty in 1991. He was named associate vice chancellor for academic planning and assessment for the UT System in 2003, and in January 2012, he was appointed executive vice chancellor for academic affairs to provide strategic and administrative leadership to the presidents of UT’s nine academic institutions.

The news release also stated that as the top academic leader in the UT System for the last several years, Reyes “led a far-reaching – and successful – effort to increase student success and retention at every academic institution. He and his team coordinated funding, training and resources to help each campus set and strive to reach its targets.”

Vistasp M. Karbhari, president of The University of Texas at Arlington, said: “Dr. Reyes has been a tremendous advocate for our students, focusing his efforts on activities that have furthered student excellence across all our campuses. His passion and commitment for student success have been inspirational, and we will miss his quiet and unassuming yet determined manner of ensuring that we exceeded our goals.”

Paul Foster, chairman of the UT System board of regents, said: “We will always be thankful for Dr. Reyes’ amazing dedication to students, staff and faculty throughout the UT System. While we’ll miss him in his current role, I’m so pleased that he will continue his good work at UT Austin.”

Editor’s Note: In the main photo accompanying this story are then-UT-Pan American President Robert Nelsen, then-UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, then-UT System Chair of Regents Gene Powell, and UT System Vice Chancellor Pedro Reyes. The photo was taken at UT-Brownsville in December, 2012, the day after the UT System approved the creation of a new university for the Rio Grande Valley.